"Rejoice isn't a feeling." Amy Groeschel
Scripture & Devotion: Scripture Focus - Luke 2:10-12
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
HOW TO JOY…
JOY in scripture is (among other things) something we DO—a verb.
Remember the story of very young Mary, pregnant with Jesus? She shows up at the door of her much older relative Elizabeth, also pregnant, and Elizabeth cries out a blessing to Mary and the Savior she carries: “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:45 NRSV). The week of Advent JOY, these women’s support and love of one another, both pregnant in difficult unsettling circumstances, can inspire us to “joy” in active ways.
In fact, leaping may be central to “joy” as action. We remember that a lame man Jesus’ disciples healed (Acts 3:8 KJV) stood up with them to enter the temple “walking and leaping and praising God.” Joy in the Psalms is lots of times active and noisy, too: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice… shout for joy!” (Psalm 32:11). Or “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands!” (Psalm 66:1-2). We have all seen little ones, “joying” like Elizabeth’s baby, jumping and dancing and squealing at the prospect of daddy or mommy scooping them up for a hug. Or we have been that lover who leaps into our dear one’s arms after time apart for school or work. “Jumping for joy,” we say—because we know this whole human body finds bliss in elation, fulfillment, reunion.
But just now, plenty of us might not be feeling it. Joy is in short supply the year of Covid-19. Some suffer huge losses financially. Loved ones in our church family have died this year, and we mourn them. You may have been very sick. We all miss face to face times with friends and family. I am stunned that Luke’s version (6:23) of the “beatitudes” (that is, Jesus’ list of “Blessed are those who…”) is built precisely around bad times. His followers who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated—it’s these folks Jesus commands to “rejoice in that day and leap for joy…” For you are in good company, Jesus reminds us. Other believers have suffered. It won’t always be this way. I see you. I am with you.
I have struggled with this command to joying. I resist any version of it, but it keeps showing up. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials… for you know the testing of your faith produces patience, perseverance… wisdom… deeper faith” (James 1:2-8). But after all, Jesus offers joy to women who face childbirth like his own mother Mary and Elizabeth in the Advent story. “When her baby is born,” he observes in John 16:21, “she forgets (the pain and) anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” There’s pain in birth. And joy. Hebrews 12:2 tells us our Lord Jesus, himself, “for the joy set before him, endured the cross.” Jesus promises that beyond the pain and loss, there’s joy.
So how do we do joy this very Advent, our moment in 2020?
First of all, snuggle into the Father’s arms as Ryan in a recent Advent video suggests. Read nativity stories in scripture. Find a Christmas album or a hymnal at your house or internet Christmas carols, and turn on the music, sing out loud. Look for that “long-expected Jesus,” the “joy of every longing heart” who is waiting arms outstretched just for you.
Next, get up and leap! Rock around the Christmas tree, or groove to saxophone blues, or hip your hop. (One powerful Advent hip hop lyric points out to me “the ironic gift of cancer.”) On this “joying,” my IV staff friend Brandi recommends, “While we may not always feel joyful, our bodies can help us along… Bonus points,” she says, “if you do it with others (even virtually). It is a gift to practice joy and freedom together.”
And here are a raft of other ideas. Take cookies, supper, flowers to a friend. Send cat pictures to shut ins. Send a weekly note to your aunties. Pay for the folks behind you in the drive-through line. Set up your own take-out line for friends to drive by. Host a safely distanced gathering in your garage (you know church folks who do!). Make a flower/leaf/twig design on your sidewalk for passers-by to see. Feed a wild cat. Try painting, and gift the pictures to friends. Send an amaryllis kit as a surprise. Play accordion for neighbor kids every afternoon. (These ideas come from “How to Find—And Spread—Joy,” a list from NY Times readers, 6 December 2020.)
How ever you decide to “joy,” be warned that the feeling might come after. Do joy first—joy as feeling may follow.
Wendy Johnson Prayer:
Thank You for making us a people who can choose to joy. You give us many opportunities to practice and make that choice. You come as a light into our darkness. Your word says "In Your presence is fullness of joy." We are gratefu.